Thursday, February 21, 2008

Sex education for jews!

When I first talked to my (black hatter) cousin about sex a few months after she got married, I was appalled. For several reasons.

First, she told me she was still shy to take her clothes off around her husband, and made him turn the lights off. They had been married for 6 months already. But she was completely shomer negiah before marriage, so I guess that is explainable. (but still a little sad, in an "awww, i bet she isn't having regular orgasms either" kind of way)

Second, she told me that her rabbi's wife had told her during callah classes that she was not allowed to use any form of birth control until she had given birth to both a boy and a girl. She was 19 when she got married, and still in school. So she basically used birth control before her marriage to regulate her period so she wouldn't be in niddah on her wedding night, but stopped right afterwards.

Is it really against halacha to use birth control to delay having children until you are done with your college education? Seriously? Are we now forcing young women to have children once they are married? And do they have to have a boy and a girl? What if they have 8 boys in a row? Are they still not allowed to use birth control? (This was a few years back- she is now 22 years old and has 2 baby boys, about 11 months apart from each other. I'm assuming she still is not using birth control because she doesn't have a girl yet).

Third, she thought if you didn't start having kids by the time you were in your late 20s, your "biological clock" ran out, and you could never have kids. That's why you had to get married in your early 20s apparently. I've recently seen this same sentiment in some young frum girl's blog.

Girls, this is absolutely, 100%, not true. Your chances of conception don't even START to get lower until you are in your late 30s. (like 36-37). And after that it's not like your chances fall off a cliff or something. at ages 35-39 you are 75% as likely to have a child as someone younger, and at ages 40-45, you are still 50% as likely. These were the rates before we had things like in vitro fertilization, which increase your chances of conceiving exponentially at older ages.

Here's a convenient chart I found in 5 seconds of googling:

so your fertility doesn't even start to drop off until you are 35. And these are actual births per woman, not their chances of these are affected by a number of other factors (like whether or not you are trying to have more children). So this late 20s bullshit is just a bunch of bullshit.

Fourth, she had no idea about how women get pregnant. Mind you, later I found out she was about 3 months pregnant while we were having this conversation. She had never heard of the word "ovulation", had no idea that you got pregnant at certain times of the month, just didn't know about any of that.

Are we really neglecting jewish sex education, even to women who are ACTUALLY getting married, to the point where they don't even know how pregnancy happens? My cousin is a smart girl. She went to college, she's working on a masters degree despite her two infant aged children...and yet she was so sheltered she had NO IDEA how conception worked. WHILE SHE WAS ALREADY PREGNANT no less!!

some interesting facts on the Jewish laws of niddah and conception:

Fact: Conception is most likely to happen about 2 weeks before you get your period, during the period called "ovulation". That's when an egg is dropping out of your ovaries and hanging around your womb, waiting for some sperms. If you don't get pregnant, you get your period about 2 weeks after that.

Fact: conception is more likely to happen if your man's semen has a high sperm count. Men who don't masturbate (according to jewish law) and don't have sex with their wives for 2 weeks during nidah, have been saving up their sperms. They are likely to have a higher than normal sperm count the first time they have sex after nidah.

Fact: Nidah is when you can't have sex with your wife while she is getting her period, and for a week after her period has stopped. Then, after that 2 week period, she goes to the mikvah, and it's a mitzvah to have sex with her that night (according to what I know of nidah laws...correct me if I'm wrong here)

Fact: If a woman is on a 28 day cycle (which is the average), gets her period for around a week, she will be approximately 14 days into her cycle when she has sex after going to the mikvah. Which, if you look at it the other way, means she has approximately 14 more days until her period starts again. WHICH means she is most likely ovulating on that night that she comes back from the mikvah. And is having sex with her husband, who (if he follows all the Jewish laws) has not masturbated or had sex in 2 weeks, and therefore has super potent sperm.

It's almost as if the whole system is designed to maximize the chances of women getting pregnant! In fact, it IS designed that way!


  1. I am with you on being appalled by the lack of knowledge that many in the Orthodox community have about such a fundamental part of being human. I was actually really encouraged to see this posting on one of my yahoo groups:

    "Yeshiva University's Center for the Jewish Future is seeking a full-time director for a special project called Tzelem. Tzelem is
    designed to develop religiously- sensitive resources on intimacy and
    sexuality for different constituencies within the Orthodox community."

    I hope it helps.

  2. You got your sperm count facts wrong. Check your facts. It's neither higher nor lower either way.

  3. Why is anybody appalled? Why do you care what somebody else knows or doesn't know? Just because it's important to you? I am sure there are many things that I know, and believe to be very important to life, yet you lack the same knowledge...but I am ok with that. The interesting thing here to know is why you are bothered that she's doesn't know?

  4. While I too am appalled at the lack of sex education in the situation you mention, I have to tell you it's not like that in all of the Orthodox community. I was raised in a Orthodox community and married within the community (sort of.)

    I took kallah classes before I got married. Sex ed was covered pretty comprehensively in the class and the teacher was *very* frum. I was, to put it delicately, well informed before going into it, but I would have been well educated even if I went in knowing nothing at all.

    In addition, you have your facts wrong about fertility While the chances of pregnancy itself decline significantly in a woman's 30's, her actual fertility begins to decline at 28. Read this article...
    I know I am calling you on a technicality but for some reason technicalities get the geek in me going.

  5. Sorry for some reason the link did not post properly. Trying again. If you want to read it you're probably going to have t cut and paste.

  6. Muslim communities are so similar, it's sad that there is a lack of sexual education between certain groups.

  7. Chassidish communities are largely made of people like this. They have no clue and often freak out.

    Chassidic womens' forums have plenty of threads along the lines of "we didn't get pregnant for a while because we didn't know what to do" and along the lines of my engaged friend found out what happens on the wedding night and now she doesn't want to get married."

  8. actually, fertility does not decline. Fertility is the number of children per 1000 women. Fecundity is your ability to have children (so what this article is wrongly referring to as fertility).

  9. well i personally was appalled because this is my baby cousin who was pregnant and didn't even know how she got that way, and was told (and believed) that she wasn't allowed to use birth control because god didn't want her to. Even though I'm an atheist, I still care about some of my relatives, and to what extent they are in control of their own lives!

  10. awesome post!
    I dont think that sex ed has to be as explicit as it is within for the PS/secular people, but they definitly should teach sex ed, and before kallah classes not to freak girls out so much when they're engaged.

    I had a discussion with one of my friends the other day and she had no idea what making out was, and thought that one can get pregnant from it!!! I started cracking up...anyway, this girl is in the dating scene and can get engaged (technically) any day now.

  11. Many Modern Orthodox Rabbis will give young couples a heter not to have children right away if they feel that it might affect either spouse's emotional or medical health. But yes, the way the observance of niddah is timed is to maximize pregnancies. I'm not sure why you view this as a bad thing (do you? I"m not so clear on my understanding). The Orthodox world is built around the family.

    It is a shame that your cousin was so clueless about sex and yes, I agree that there needs to be more education in the Yeshivish world. Before I got married, I had a phenomenal Kallah teacher. She explained the halachic views on sex and I asked her many intimate and embarrassing questions. She also broke out the gemarrah and showed me sources for things about which I was unclear. I didn't need a biology lesson from her because I learned all of that in Yeshiva (what was know as "Hygiene" class was really sex education). Granted, I was much older than 19 when I got married.

    I was very involved with an organization giving Kallah classes when I was married and I felt it was extremely important to include sex education as a part of classes. I don't know what goes on in the Yeshivish world in this area, but if the young Kallahs are truly going into marriage as clueless as this, yes, something needs to be done.

    Worst yet, the CHOSSON classes (across Orthodoxy) need a major makeover. You know what my ex was taught in his one-session phone class? A couple of the halachot and then " Let WebGirl do her thing." That's it. And this was from a very forward-thinking Modern Orthodox Rabbi. My friends had similar experiences. That has really got to change.

  12. no i don't necessarily view it as a bad thing if having children is your goal...i just think it's interesting how the laws turn out that way. :)

  13. And did you know that babies rhymes with rebbis? Coincidence? I think not.

  14. does it? i think babies rhymes with Rabies, not rebbes :)

  15. Like I said on that other blog fertility per say may not be declining until 30, but there are other risk factors associated with pregnancy which should be taken into account. These other factors would not be included on your chart because they are considered external factors. Please take into consideration the following:

    1. Clogged tubes: although her body still releases proper hormones and her eggs mature and are released in timely manner, she will be unable to get pregnant because her tubes are clogged. One of the first things fertility doctors do is clear the tubes and suddenly a large percentage of women who were considered with fertility problems are pregnant.

    Doctors consider one with fertility problems if she did not get pregnant after 12 months of unprotective sex on regular basis.

    2. Prolonged usage (8+ years) of birth control pills cause infertility and miscarriage.

    3. As a woman goes through life she could suffer traumas, infections, or even a simple flu which could affect her abilities to conceive and/or carry full term. So the older she gets the more are the chances of her suffering through one of these traumas.

    Yes a woman could still get pregnant in her mid 40s, but there are other complications that arise at later age: Down syndrome, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart problems, stress to liver and kidneys, and that just during pregnancy. Delivery at that age is another horror story. Risks to a mother that age are phenomenal and there is still risk even after a successful delivery. Also it is a lot harder for a 40 year old to recuperate after delivery, then a 20 year old. Why do you think doctors do amnio and other tests to over 30 women, but bypass them with younger women, unless they notice something out of ordinary?

    About sex education, not sure which high school your cousin went through, but in NYS one has to take biology to graduate. A large section of biology course is dedicated to reproduction, especially woman’s cycle and ovulation. So, I’m a bit stumped as to how your cousin never learned or retained it.

    Being shy taking ones clothes off in the beginning of marriage is 100% normal and is not an indicative of whether or not she has orgasms.

    I completely agree that all girls and boys must be taught about a birth control option. It is not against a halocha and it will shrink frum families to a more manageable size.

  16. could you please give me sources of your information? like a link to a study or something?

    it is true that women over the age of 20 will take slightly longer to get pregnant (your chances of getting pregnant in a given month is 50% from age 20-29, 40% from age 30-34, and 30% from age 35-39), but your chances of eventually getting pregnant remain exactly the same until you are 35. your chances of miscarriage and birth defect do go up as you age, but again the birth defect thing doesn't kick in until you are 35, and the miscarriage thing is only slightly higher for people in their 30s than in their 20s.

    And there is no evidence i have ever heard of that says using hormonal birth control will mess with your chances of having children later in life. I would really like to see a source for that, because I study this stuff for a living, and I have NEVER heard anything like that.

  17. AE - my friend's sister-in-law was on a pill for 12 years. When she wanted to get pregnant she consulted a doctor, who told her to go off the pill but because of the prolonged use of BCP she should avoid getting pregnant for a year. Upon further questioning doctor said that prolonged use is 8 years or more. She was 26 at that time. Five months later she got pregnant, I guess what ever she was using wasn't good enough of a pregnancy prevention. She miscarried that pregnancy and doctor told her it's because of the BCPs. Eventually she did get pregnant and had a healthy baby boy.

    Also, a few months ago I there was an article, I think it was NYT, how BCPs prevent cancer in women. Most of the article spoke about the wonders of BC and stuff like that, and only if one read to the end did it say, that BCP lower chances of cancer if combined use is for less then 8 years in a life of a woman. Women who use it for over 8 years find that their chances of cancer do not decrease, but chances of breast and uterine cancers increase.

  18. do you know of any studies that have researched this? As a sociologist, I don't trust the anecdotal evidence of what your "friend's sister in law's doctor" said, as first of all, many doctors are misinformed (my old roommate was a doctor, and you would be amazed at the areas of his own specialty he had no clue about- especially when it came to population level statistics), and second of all, that's a kind of long chain of people right there.

    and there's no way the doctor could have known if the birth control is what made her misscarry. That is pure speculation on the doctor's part. About 25% of pregnancies misscarry, and I know of no study that has correlates that with prior hormonal birth control use. In fact, from what I know, most miscarriages occur as a result of genetic defects in the child, or if the mother is very old (like over 35).

  19. Abandoning Eden, I'm in your corner as a fellow "off the derech" traveler, but you do have some misinformation on this topic and I'd like to add my two cents. Unfortunately, I know a fair amount about infertility.

    First of all, do some googling (I don't have time to do it for you, sorry) and you will find an increasing number of gynecologists speaking out against oral contraceptives. Oral contraceptives interfere with the pituitary-ovarian axis and the hormonal feedback system (that's an understatement) and while some women can bounce back from this after stopping them, other women find they have permanent problems. Many MDs have been nursed on pharmacology as mother's milk and they are loathe to accept any idea that implicates drugs in health problems, but there is a revolution taking place within the medical community right now. I don't personally have an issue with short term oral contraceptive use, but they are far more dangerous than we previously realized.

    Secondly, whether abstinence for two weeks increases or decreases a man's sperm count is not the issue, rather, sperm is meant to be "cleared out" every few days or else the quality will be negatively affected. An ejaculate after two weeks of abstinence will contain a lot of dead sperm and debris -- hardly ideal for fertilization. A man with a healthy sperm count will likely not have his fertility impeded by this two week abstinence, but a man with a borderline count or a poor count absolutely will.

    Lastly, I agree with the poster who pointed out that fertility begins to decline at age 28, if you look at trends. Of course, some women will be more fertile than others, or will be fertile later in life than others, but fertility BEGINS to decline around age 28. I had a child at 24 and began having miscarriages at age 28, never to have another child. The cause of miscarriage CAN often be determined if the proper tests are conducted, and in my case, the cause was deteriorating egg quality. Yet I know women who give birth to their last child at age 48. Dr. Neri Laufer at Hadassah Ein Kerem in Jerusalem just discovered a gene in Ashkenazi women that is associated with advanced age fertility. But PLEASE please please do not fall into the trap of believing that women can wait until their late 30's to have children. Please do some cruising around the web and visit some infertility forums. What you will learn there will break your heart. The best time for breeding is in the 20's, hands' down. Some women will have fertility isses from the get-go, of course, but there are many women who could conceive in their youth (and had a baby or had an abortion), only to find that at age 35 when they were ready to start their families, their eggs were already kaput.

    I do not approve of child marriage, and I think all women should be educated and have a marketable skill and be independent. But the realities of our bio clocks cannot be denied. In short, everything you have been told by NOW is a lie!

    Learn from one who knows. I would hate for anyone to experience the pain I am living with every day, because I believed I could wait to have more children.

  20. I read an ethnography about frum women and mikvah (I think it was a population in New York). Some women's bodies just don't work well with taharat hamishpachah, such that some women are always niddah or they end up being niddah when they're actually ovulating, thus effectively preventing them from having children. It seems as if following these rules would result in either always being pregnant or never having kids - and neither is desirable from the perspective of a woman in such communities.

  21. frum teenagers try to get info on sex though- i went to camp and that was about 50% of our nightly bunk sharing thingy we did- telling each other everything we knew about sex.
    and yeah, if you read secular books, you can get a blurry picture of what to do.
    blurry pix are better than no pix.


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